Who? Femke Jansen and Lisanne van Beek, Master’s students of Earth and environment
What? Master’s thesis on water availability in Samboja Lestari nature reserve
Where? Borneo, Indonesia
‘Samboja Lestari is an accommodation for traumatized and permanently harmed orangutans rescued from areas that have been destroyed by forest fires. The NGO “BOS foundation” harbours these orang-utans on artificial islands surrounded by water ditches. Our research aim was to find out how the water level of the ditches can be kept at a constant high level throughout the seasons. Additionally, we should figure out whether there is enough water available in the area to create more islands. We were highly motivated to do the research as some of the rescued orangutans still live in cages because there is not enough space on the islands for all of them. As we saw those animals every day, our goal was always on our minds.
Our Indonesian colleagues were quite shy at first. Luckily we were able to break through this barrier when we found out that we all liked the music of Dido. We were surprised by how helpful and hospitable the local people were. When our scooter had a flat tire a man immediately offered to fix it and invited us over to dinner with his family. The people there just take the time to help others. This is something you do not easily find in the Netherlands. We also found it very striking how polite people in Indonesia were. It was quite challenging to formulate criticism within such an environment.
During our first month of research the nature reserve experienced regular forest fires which we could observe from our house. The fires came close to the area the orangutans live in. Once we went to see the result of a forest fire. The heat still lingered in the air and we found a devastated, black landscape where once had been a green forest. We thought it looked very depressing.
Eventually, after one and a half months of drought, it started raining more often and the animals in the area became more active. Suddenly we encountered a lot of monkeys, snakes and hogs during our fieldwork. A highlight of our stay on Borneo was seeing a wild orangutan up close. He was only two metres away and was watching us calmly. He looked just like a six-year old boy with a lot of hair.’